Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Greater ‘Greater KL’? No thanks!

The Government of Malaysia has just announced the Economic Transformation Program, or ETP. The ETP identifies twelve National Key Economic Areas (NKEA), one of which is Greater Kuala Lumpur.

The vision for Greater KL is to turn the nation’s capital into one of the global top-20 most livable cities, as well as having a top-20 ranking in city economic growth by 2020. The GNI (Gross National Income) share of Greater KL will be increased from approximately 30 percent of the nation’s GNI to approximately 40 percent. Total employment in this region will also increase from 2.5 million this year to 4.2 million by 2020. Total population will increase to 10 million, up from the current 6.4 million.

That is, the population of this region will increase by more than 50% within a decade!

Isn’t KL crowded enough? Don’t we complain about getting stuck in traffic gridlock everyday? Isn’t the property price already prohibitively high? I can imagine that a person who works in KL proper will have to live in Tanjung Malim, simply because he/she cannot afford a house anywhere nearer to the workplace. And the government is talking about ‘livability’!??

On the other hand, Perak, Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan will be littered with ghost towns, as these states continue to lose their people to Greater KL.

There are people who think that a ‘mega city’ is essential to stimulate the economy. A property analyst, for example, is reported to say, “Cities generally generate a huge proportion of a country’s wealth. Paris produces 30% of France’s wealth, Tokyo 20% to 25% of Japan’s, and the Klang Valley 30%.” (Making Greater KL the nation’s heartbeat, The Star, September 25, 2010)

But why don’t we look at American model instead? In the US, New York is the financial capital, while Los Angeles in the entertainment capital; Silicon Valley hosts the headquarters of Intel, Apple and Google, while Detroit is the home for auto industry; of course, Washington DC is the national capital. Economic activities do not revolve around any single mega city, but rather distributed across the nation.

OK, maybe America is too big compared to Malaysia. But even the state of California has four major centers instead of just one. These centers are – from North to South – San Francisco (Bay Area), San Jose (Silicon Valley), Los Angeles and San Diego. The state capital is the little-known Sacramento.

In Malaysia, the Federal Government decides where the money and people should go. American cities, on the other hand, compete with each other for investment, funding and talents. Which is why any city can thrive – subject to factors beyond their control such as geographic location and climate.

I am not in favor of the Greater KL plan. The government should instead shift focus to less-developed regions of the country.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Book Giveaway

My room is overrun by books, and I intend to dispose of some of them. If you are interested in the books listed below please drop me an e-mail. I will mail them to you. Alternatively, we may meet in Starbucks or White Town Old Coffee…

BTW, I would like to get your advice on the best way to send a book by mail…

Angels & Demons by Dan Brown

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseni

村上春樹 之發條鳥年代紀

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Lesson on Catchlight

I am still learning photography, and I regularly make mistakes…

Here is a picture I shot during a photo session. The exposure is right, and the model is photogenic. Nonetheless, I am far from satisfied. Why?

Now, let’s zoom in to model’s eyes. There is one major flaw: No catchlight!

Now, let’s look at another picture. In this one, you can see the catchlight in the model’s eyes.

Catchlight makes a subject look livelier. There are several ways we can create catchlight in the eyes. We can, for example, get the subject to face the sun or light, but this is not always possible. Alternatively, we can fire the flash into the eyes; one possible downside of this approach is that it may render the picture with less 3D-feel. Finally, we can use some white surface to reflect sunlight into the eyes of the subject, but this technique is somewhat cumbersome.

In my earlier post, I mentioned that many photographers dislike flash. But you see, flash can create catchlight in the eyes. It’s not so bad after all.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Yes Man

In my earlier post, I mentioned that my company purchased a piece of equipment from Japan. We encountered some problems with this equipment, and we regularly make conference calls with the Japanese vendor to discuss this issue. I notice that one of the Japanese engineers likes to utter the word ‘yes’ when he talked to us. Example:

My colleague: Your equipment has this problem…

Japanese engineer: Yes…

My colleague: The problem is caused by this behavior…

Japanese engineer: Yes…

My colleague: We would like you to fix this…

Japanese engineer: Yes…

In Japanese, there is a word ‘hai’, which is loosely translated as ‘yes’. Japanese often say ‘hai’ when they talked to each other. However, this does not signal agreement, but more like ‘I am listening’ or ‘I understand what you mean’.

So when I heard the Japanese engineer repeatedly say ‘yes’, I knew he was using that word for ‘hai’. (Call it Japlish if you like.) I immediately cautioned my colleague: he was not admitting that their equipment was not functioning properly.

Be really careful if you ever have to deal with Japanese!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Traveling with Laptop

A friend of mine, who was a shutterbug, went on a photo trip to Bali last August. He would be bringing along his notebook PC, but I advised him to leave it at home. I thought it was a bad idea to burden himself with extra weight of his PC. After all, his trip would last only 4 days.

These days a lot of photographers travel with their laptops. Their main purpose for doing so is to backup their photos as well as surf Net. Some also photoshop their pictures during the trips.

However, I have been backpacking around Southeast Asia, and haven’t found the need to do so. For a start, I usually stay in family-run guesthouses, which do not have Wifi services anyway. If I want to surf Net, I would walk into one of many ‘Internet shops’; if I want to backup my photos, I would burn a CD/DVD in a camera store. As for editing pictures, I will leave it until I return home.

The chief disadvantage of bringing a laptop is its weight. In theory, I can leave it in the hotel room, but then I would be concerned of theft. High-end hotels do provide safe deposit box, but they are not my choice.

Of course, if I would be driving, I may change my mind. And if I am on business trip, I may have no choice.

So, do you have a habit of bringing along a laptop when you are on a leisure trip?

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Lesson on Flash Photography

Many photographers avoid using flash when they shoot portrait. According to them, portraits taken with flash fired “don’t look natural”. But I am surprised that even some snap shooters have learned to distrust camera flash. Perhaps somebody had told them that flashed photos are bad, so they also turn off the flash when taking pictures, without knowing the tricks.

Last August, I attended graduation ceremony after I completed my MBA study. After the ceremony, my classmates and I took some group shots. For once, I wasn’t the photographer, but one of the subjects. A few days later, my classmates e-mailed the photos to me. I was disappointed, as most of the pictures didn’t turn out good…

The following is one bad shot. The picture is blurred due to handshaking problem. A check on the EXIF data reveals that “flash did not fire”. That’s exactly the cause. Had the flash been fired, we should have got a sharp picture. A flashed photo may be unnatural, but it is still better than a blurred one, right?

(click to enlarge)

Now, you may ask me why a flashed photo is sharper than a flash-less one. The explanation is somewhat technical, and is not within the scope of this post. Just remember: flash helps to counter handshaking problem, thereby giving you a sharper picture. (Well, assuming that you don’t suffer from Parkinson syndrome.)

Here is another flash-less shot. This picture was taken with Canon EOS 550D, supposedly more advanced than my own camera. Furthermore, the lens had Image Stabilization, which helped to counter handshaking. Hence, unlike the first shot, this one is sharp. Nonetheless, I am still not satisfied, because the skin tones of the people look yellowish. (Remember that Asian women generally love fair skin?) Again, had the flash been fired, we would have got more accurate, or more appealing, skin tone.

(click to enlarge)

As a conclusion, don’t be misled into thinking that flashed portrait must be bad. If you haven’t learned the basics of photography, I suggest that you switch to auto mode and let the camera decide for you.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

A bite of sweet Apple

Back in July, I had a chance to photograph a model in kimono & yukata. Recently, I joined another photo session whereby the model was dressed in yukata. It was a different model though, and at another location. Here are some shots for sharing…

By the way, can you guess the name of the model?

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Discrimination, Intolerance & Hope - USA vs. Malaysia

I came across an interesting article by Ziad Haider, a Muslim American, in a Malaysian newspaper recently. He wrote in response to the controversy surrounding the construction of an Islamic cultural center in New York City.


Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, a Muslim clergy who lived in America, wanted to build an Islamic cultural center in New York City. The proposed site was two blocks away from the former World Trade Center. His plan was met with strong objection among Americans, who mistook, or misrepresented, the cultural center as a mosque. They argued that the construction of a mosque so near to the ‘Ground Zero’ would hurt the feeling of the people whose relatives were killed in September 11 terrorist attacks, or that it would mark the victory of extremism.

Here is an excerpt from Ziad Haider’s article:

Catholics were thought to bear ultimate allegiance to the pope – not to America. The election of the first Catholic President John F. Kennedy ended that. During World War II while the US was at war with Japan, Japanese Americans were placed in internment camps – a wrong that has been publicly acknowledged. Now it seems is the turn of Muslim Americans whose allegedly exclusive allegiance to syariah over the constitution is in question at a time when Islamic extremism is the threat.

History seems to show that this too shall pass. Despite a host of hate crimes that have occurred ranging from the recent stabbing of a Bangladeshi taxi driver because he was a Muslim to the desecration of several mosques in the US, the voices of Muslims and non-Muslims supporting the center and condemning such heinous attacks are spilling over across the airwaves, online, and in the streets of New York. The maelstrom will exact a toll in the days ahead but America will, I believe, ultimately self-correct…

(Ziad Haider, America’s Islamic center, The Sun, September 2, 2010)

As a Muslim American, one would expect Haider to be upset over the controversy. Yet, rather than lamenting intolerance in his country, he expressed hope. He believe America would self-correct. He believed in a better future.

Malaysia, like the US, is no stranger to racial and religious conflicts. Our history isn’t as bad as America’s. Unfortunately, we are also more pessimistic. In fact, it is arguable that racial relations have gone downhill since the day Union Jack was lowered some 53 years ago. How could that happen?

In his article, Ziad went on to write:

…For better or worse America is engaged in a debate; it is long overdue elsewhere as well.

I believe debate, or lack of it, is exactly what has held us back…

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Indoor Tanning

I didn’t expect Malaysia would ever have an indoor tanning center.

Indoor tanning centers are common in Western countries, where people like tanned skin. But this is Malaysia, a tropical country. Malaysians often prefer to hide inside air-conditioned rooms to escape the searing sun during the hottest hours of the day. Asian women, as we know, traditionally love fair skin. Who would spend money to have their skin tanned? (I believe European women once loved fair skin too, or we wouldn’t have the story of Snow White.)

But I was wrong. Fabulous Tan, a Singapore-based group, has opened a franchised outlet in Malaysia. The center was reported to be doing well, and the owner was already planning to open another branch. Fabulous Tan provides other services such as hair removal and teeth whitening.

According to the owner, majority of her patrons are homosexuals. Do gays like tanned skin? Or are they merely looking for a gathering place?

So, would you try indoor tanning?

P/S Please also check out my post in another blog:

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